Of the many things that were cool in the 1960s, motorcycles were the coolest. While now we call two-wheel desperados "bikers," back in the day, they were referred to as Leather Boys, Ton-Up Boys, or (usually scornfully) Coffee-Bar Cowboys.
What these boys rode were some really sick machines, made to look cool and go fast, nothing else. While now we have progressed to sleek and discreet bikes, there was nothing low-key or subtle about the bikes of the 1960s. Let's have a look at some of the most impressive examples.
BSA Rocket Gold Star
Produced between 1962 and 1963, the Rocket Gold Star was one of the most successful bikes of the British Small Arms Company (BSA). With a 646cc parallel twin engine and a solid build, the RGS was a fan favorite when it came out.
BSA made several improvements to the design, including better carburetors, a slightly bigger capacity engine, and more, but used the frame and general layout of the engine for a long time.
Royal Enfield Continental GT
Royal Enfield developed the Continental GT 1965 as an endurance motorcycle that could sustain extended trips in one go. To prove its durability, the bike was ridden from Northern Scotland to Cornwall.
With pre-determined refueling stops and five riders, the bike completed the journey in 22 hours and 0 minutes. A 6th rider, John Cooper, completed eight laps of the Silverstone Circuit on the same bike.
The DT-1 was Yamaha's entry into dual-sport bikes. Developed at the end of the 1960s and released to the market in 1973, the DT-1 was a bike you could have fun with off and on the road.
Light, durable, well-built, inexpensive, and easy to maintain, the DT-1 soon became a fan favorite and started an era of dual-sport bikes for Yamaha that continues to this day.
Honda CB750 Four
Called by some "the first superbike" and others "the most sophisticated street bike ever," the CB750 was the most remarkable bike of the late 1960s to late 1970s. It brought technologies like disc brakes, four-cylinder engine, and others to a production bike for the first time.
Honda was projecting just 1,500 units to be sold in 10 years but had to increase that number to 36,000 for the first year and ended up selling half a million of these between 1969 and 1978.
Suzuki TS Savage
Suzuki followed in the footsteps of Yamaha after the DT-1 was such a hit. The TS250, called Savage in the US, was a 250cc bike with a five-speed transmission and high swept-back exhaust, all the qualities needed to make it good off the road.
The bike stayed in production till 1981 and saw a number of changes and improvements in the design over that time.
Harley-Davidson is normally known for their big V-Twin bikes, but in the late 1960s, they realized there was a demand for smaller two-stroke bikes that people could take off-road.
Harley's (unsuccessful) attempt to enter that market was the Baja. Even though this was a fine bike in itself, it came at the same time as Yamaha, Suzuki, and Honda entered this market segment, overshadowing Harley.
Kawasaki H1 Mach III
The 500cc, 60hp, two-stroke H1 Mach III was the fastest production bike when it came out in 1969, quickly gaining the unofficial title of "Widow Maker." With plenty of power at the rider's disposal, it was a dangerous bike for the ones with little self-control.
Not only was the H1 powerful, but the build quality was also great, making this bike one of the most desired ones of its time.
Triumph Trident 750
The Trident 750 was a joint venture between Triumph and BSA, and if Honda had not released the CB750, this might have been the first superbike in the world.
The Trident was powerful, and all but the styling was starting to look aged when it came out. These days, it is regarded as a desirable collector's bike, but not as much as many others of the same era.
Triumph Tiger Daytona
Triumph made the Tiger Daytona to commemorate the victory of Buddy Elmore in the Daytona 200 in 1967 on a Tiger 100. It was a 41hp 490cc V-Twin bike with a 4-speed gearbox and a top speed of 105mph.
The Daytona remained in production till 1973, when the company ceased production due to some industrial issues.
The Norton Commando, to this day, remains one of the best bikes to own and ride. It was named 'Motorcycle of the Year' for five years in a row, and Norton sold half a million of these.
One of the main innovations made with the Commando was the introduction of isolating engine mounts that prevented the engine vibrations from vibrating the body of the bike and made it possible to squeeze every last bit of performance out of it.
One of the earliest attempts by Kawasaki to enter the US and Global motorcycle markets, the Kawasaki W1 was not a huge commercial success, despite being one of the best bikes of its time.
The main reason was that back then, the reliability of Japanese bikes was still being established, and people felt more comfortable buying British and American ones. These days, the W1 is one of the hardest classics to come by.
The Atlas was the final form of Norton's Dominator bike and the Featherbed frame. Atlas gave it all the best things, but the issue of vibrations with large V-Twin engines was still unsolved.
The 55 horsepower 745cc Atlas was a good bike and was received well by the market, but the Commando, with its vibration-isolating engine design, was better.
One of the most iconic motorcycles from the 1960s is the Ducati Scrambler, a model that was revived in 2014 and is still a modern classic. The original Scrambler came originally with a 250cc or a 350cc engine option.
Even though it had a small engine, the Scrambler was never meant to be an off-road bike... still, it was a capable one.
Honda CB77 Super Hawk
The first sports bike from Honda, the CB77, a.k.a Super Hawk, is renowned, to this date, for speed, reliability, and durability. Honda designed the Super Hawk so well that it gave tough competition to the 500cc British bikes even though it had a 305cc engine.
Then there was the suspension design that made the bike feel and behave safely even at its top speed of 100mph.
Honda NT650 Hawk GT
The Hawk GT might not have the same charisma as the true vintages of the 1960s and 1970s, but it has gained collectible status due to the low volume of production.
Introduced in 1988 and produced only until 1991, the Hawk GT is a bike with a cult following. It is also the first 'Naked' street bike to have design features like a single swing arm, an aluminum box frame, and a V-Twin four-stroke engine.
The XL250 is one of the most recognizable Honda dirt bikes of the 1970s. It came with a 250cc four-stroke engine producing 28 horsepower and a narrow chassis that is just 12 inches apart at the widest part.
The XL250 also got a lot of fame and a fan following because it was a legit street bike but still fully street-legal.
Honda GL1000 Gold Wing
The Gold Wing was the bike that started the era of road touring bikes. With a SOHC 998cc engine, the GL1000 was a big bike, the biggest it could get while just being user-friendly.
One of the distinctive design features of the Gold Wing was the Dummy Gas Tank, which was just there for show while the actual gas tank was under the seat to help with the center of gravity.
Honda CMX250 Rebel
Honda made the Rebel as a way of inducting youth into the motorcycle culture. It was a bike that looked powerful and aggressive, but at the heart of this two-wheeler was a tamed engine.
The 250cc engine did not give this bike any scary performance numbers, making newcomers and first-time buyers feel safe.
MV Agusta 500 3C
Considered the most successful racing bike in history, the MV Augusta 500 was developed with just one purpose; to defeat the Honda bikes at the 500cc Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing World Championship.
Riding this bike, Giacomo Agostini won the Grand Prix consecutively between 1966 and 1972. MV Augusta also won the constructor's world championship during those years.
Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide
The undisputed King of Grand Touring bikes, the Electra-Glide will always remain one of the best two-wheeled machines ever produced.
Even in this age of high-revving small engines and four-stroke bikes, it has a place of its own. If you want to go far on a bike in comfort, there can hardly be a better option.
The 1980s were the most transformative and innovation-filled time in the 120-year-old history of motorcycles. This bike, nicknamed "mean green machine," is one of the most iconic of that time.
Immortalized by the legendary racer Eddie Lawson, the KZ1000R-S1 is, to this day, the dream bike of enthusiasts.
1972 Kawasaki H2
The Ninja H2 might be the fastest bike of this time, but the OG H2 was the real deal when it came out back in the early 1970s.
It was not only crazy fast, but Kawasaki also kept the price point at a level so that anyone could enjoy going fast on a bike.
1973 Kawasaki Z-1
According to many automotive reviewers, this is the bike that sums up the biking scene of the 1970s. It came to the market in 1973 and dominated the decade with its performance, style, and durability.
It was that kind of bike where the performance depended on the bravery of the rider and the handling of their skill.
1967 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster
The XLH Sportster was Harley's luxury model of the Sportster line. It introduced luxuries like an improved suspension design and an electric starter. This was the first time one of Harley's big twins got an electric leg so that was a big deal.
Other improvements over the regular model included a bigger fuel tank, fancier trim options, and a large polished chrome headlight nacelle.
1966 Harley-Davidson Sprint
The Sprint was a joint venture between Harley-Davidson and Aermacchi of Italy. Powered by a 250cc horizontal engine and not the trademark Harley Twin, this bike was nothing like the Harleys everyone was used to seeing.
Even then, the Sprint got a fair amount of attention and fandom from the bikers of that time... and still continues to be a popular vintage bike.
Ducati 125 Sport
The first bike to be designed by Fabio Taglioni, the 125 Sport, was an instant success because it was designed in direct response to what the buyers wanted; a road-going version of the Gran Sport Mariana.
It might have a small engine, but this thing was lightweight and agile, earning it a good reputation.
Ducati 175 T
Made on the same formula as the 125 Sport, the 175 T was another of the bikes designed by Fabio Taglioni. This time, the engine was a little bit bigger, but the overall format was the same.
This bike got famous from the world tour that was completed by Leopoldo Tartarini and Giorgio Monetti in 1958.
1981 Kawasaki GPZ-1100
It had new styling, bright coloring, and a brand new high-tech fuel injection system that was still a novelty back then, making this bike one of the most advanced ones for its time.
The GPZ-1100 was one of the three bikes of the GPZ series. Even though the 1300 had a bigger engine, this was still the faster one.
This bike came out in 1999, but it sure has a spot on this list because it was inspired by the big, bulky, and in-your-face bikes of the 1930s and 1940s. With its big engine, overgrown fenders, and large floorboards, this does look like it is from the golden age of bikes.
The Drifter was Kawasaki's attempt to enter the 'big' bike market, and it went pretty well.
1974 Kawasaki KZ400
It was the 1970s, and Kawasaki was trying to find a way to best Honda at the small twin game, the one started by the CB350. The answer to that was this; a bike with a small engine but all the amenities of the big American ones.
This bike hit the market right when gas prices went up 40%, so there could never have been a better time to launch a 50-mpg econo-bike to the market.
1978 Yamaha SR500
The SR500 was adapted from the XT500 enduro bike to create one that could be used as a road-going sports bike. Known for its timeless design, high torque, and characteristic big single-cylinder pulse, the SR500 was an instant hit.
This bike went on to be so successful that Yamaha produced the model, with little change, for 40 years.
1980 Yamaha XS1100
The XS1100 from Yamaha had all you could ever ask from a bike. It had a simple yet elegant style, lots of power, plenty of torque, and good old Japanese reliability.
Yamaha also delivered on build quality and durability with this bike, making the model a favorite among touring enthusiasts.
Yamaha R5 350
The brand's first twin-cylinder air-cooled 2-stroke motorcycle released for the public, the R5 350 was adapted from Yamaha's 2-stroke racers, the TD 250 and TR 350.
The goal was to replace the dated Yamaha street bikes, namely the DS6 and R3, that were still using a decade-old technology. That it did pretty well.
Yamaha YDS1 Scrambler
The goal of designing this bike was simple, a road-legal sport bike that would be acceptable all over the world. That necessitated a simple design and lots of power.
The race-ready Scrambler had a 250-cc two-cylinder engine fitted with a dual-barrel carburetor, creating a smooth supply of torque that gave a thrill to the riders. And it did not have a lot of stuff that could break.
1970 Yamaha XS650
The XS650 is the kind of bike that you can take on a world tour any day of the week. It is not just about the reliability and durability of the bike but the fact that it handles vibrations so well.
Comfortable, reliable, and relatively fuel-efficient, what more do you need from a bike?
Yamaha Twinjet 100
Held in great honor by collectors, even to this date, the Twinjet 100 made it possible for everyone to have a fun-to-ride bike that was somewhat safe too.
The tiny 90cc (100cc for America and Europe) engine put out a healthy 8.5 horses and revved all the way up to 8,500 rpm. It was this bike that pioneered all of Yamaha's sub-1000cc bikes.
Yamaha Trailmaster 100
Lightweight, agile, durable, and fuel-efficient, this bike ticked all the boxes for a bike you would take to the trail and not have to spend a lot of money on.
The Trailmaster, with its 100cc 2-stroke engine, was the first choice of people buying a bike on a tight budget back in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, it is a collector's bike.
The head of engineering at Vincent, Phil Irving, was the man who invented the V-Twin engine style, and it was for this very bike, the Rapide.
Released in 1936, the Rapide ushered in an era of big bikes with crazy powerful V-Twin engines. Vincent might not be a household name anymore, but their legacy, the V-Twin, lives on and will continue to do so.
Launched in 1934, the Triumph 6/1 was the first bike with a parallel twin 4-stroke engine.
Made by two of the most esteemed designers of the time, Valentine Page and Edward Turner, the design turned out to be too radical for British buyers, and the bike was discontinued after just two years.
Matchless Silver Hawk
To sum up the story of the Hawk, it is enough to say that this was an excellent bike released at the worst time; the Hungry Thirties. It was a time when money was scarce, and spending it on luxury bikes was unjustified.
That's the reason neither the new design nor the styling or engine could save this bike... and it was discontinued after two years.